Cancer is rising in young adults: How employers can respond

With access to the right support and resources, employees facing cancer may improve their chances of leading fulfilling lives while managing their condition.

Early onset cases of cancer are on the rise. 

A study released in 2023 found that the global incidence of early onset cancer, which is defined as cancer that presents in patients under 50 years of age, has increased by 79.1% while the number of deaths has increased by 27.7% from 1990 to 2019.1

In fact, cancer is now the leading cause of death from disease for female adults aged 20–39, and the No. 3 leading cause of death for male adults in the same age group — second only to heart disease.2

Additionally, UnitedHealthcare data of the costliest conditions to employers found that:

  • Cancer is the second costliest condition for employers at $43 per member per month (PMPM)3
  • Women account for 56% of cancer spend3
  • 80% of those affected by cancer are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers3

Employers can proactively help minimize the impact that cancer can have on their employees by working with their brokers, consultants and carriers to identify what programs may already be in place to help them support employees with cancer. For instance, the UnitedHealthcare approach to cancer care includes cancer-specific support and resources to help employees navigate this complex condition.

Strategies employers can take to help employees manage cancer

With cancer diagnoses on the rise, employers may wonder what they can do to help prevent cancer diagnoses among their workforce, as well as support their employees if cancer diagnoses arise. Here are a few tips:

1. Incentivize preventive care

Seeing a primary care provider (PCP) on an annual basis and getting recommended screenings may help detect cancer diagnoses earlier rather than later.

Regular cancer screening may help detect cancer earlier, which can lead to higher survival rates and a 75% treatment cost-reduction compared to when cancer is diagnosed at later stages.4

Employers can help by educating employees about cancer screening guidelines — for instance, the American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for women 45–55 and regular colonoscopies starting at age 45 for both men and women — and educate employees about how to access those services, as well as provide cost estimates.5

Some employers even offer preventive screenings at no additional cost to the employee, but, unless employees are aware of that benefit, they may not be taking full advantage of it.

2. Promote employee health and wellness

Since a healthy lifestyle may help reduce cancer risk,6 employers may want to promote health and wellness with their workforces. They can do it a number of ways, from offering a robust health plan to opening an on-site wellness center. Getting employees engaged in their own health through a rewards program may also help inspire healthy living. 

For instance, the UnitedHealthcare Rewards program offers financial rewards to employees in eligible plans who reach certain goals and complete one-time activities. Employees can personalize their experience by selecting activities that are right for them — and the same goes for ways to spend earnings. Employees can conveniently access the program through the UnitedHealthcare® app and their® account. Additionally, the program includes an employer toolkit with videos and fliers to help increase employee engagement.

3. Provide resources that can help support employees throughout their cancer journey

Employees who get a cancer diagnosis may experience the emotional rollercoaster that can accompany a serious health crisis. They may also likely experience confusion about how to navigate the new terrain. That’s where UnitedHealthcare can help.

No matter the type or stage of cancer, UnitedHealthcare focuses on ensuring members have access to quality care and providing compassionate support for employees and their families every step of the way — from prevention and diagnosis, during active treatment and through survivorship and end-of-life care.

For instance, the UnitedHealthcare Cancer Support Program provides clinical support by assigning an oncology nurse to serve as the employee’s primary contact, who is backed by board-certified oncology medical directors, social workers experienced with oncology patients and specialty pharmacists.

The team works together to coordinate treatment and appointments between multiple providers, including radiation oncologists, medical oncologists and surgeons. The team can also help employees choose lower cost site of care options to receive certain specialty medications. This can help close gaps in care, better manage costs and allow employees to go about their daily routines while focusing on their health.

Additional resources are available through UHC Hub™.* UHC Hub is a curated network of vendors that complements UnitedHealthcare’s existing solutions. For example, employees can access vendors with additional support, such as online tools and access to providers, for navigating a cancer diagnosis.

The support and programs UnitedHealthcare offers have proven to lead to:

  • $7,000 average savings for employers per surviving Cancer Support Program participant per year7
  • 98% member satisfaction with nurses in the Cancer Support Program8
  • 40% reduction in days affected by lost productivity with Employee Assistance Program (EAP)9
  • 40–60% shift out of higher-cost facilities through Site of Care redirection10


4. Offer financial support benefits

Financial stress can compound any diagnosis, but employers can help mitigate that stress by offering financial support benefits.

Employee assistant programs (EAPs) can be designed to include financial planning assistance along with other traditional areas of support, such as behavioral health, wellness and legal assistance.

And when a preferred provider isn’t in network, a solution like Naviguard® can help resolve out-of-network balance medical bills by addressing billing questions and negotiating when appropriate. 

Employer health plans can play a vital role in supporting employees throughout their journey, such as by providing access to preventive care, treatment programs and cost management strategies. By prioritizing the well-being of employees, employers can create a healthier and more productive workforce — and possibly even save lives.

*Available for ASO customers only.

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